A snowstorm rumbling through the Pacific Northwest this week jolted skiers and riders into salivating for slopes to open. A dump of new snow allowed resorts, including Whistler Blackcomb, Crystal Mountain, and Lookout Pass, to crank up their lifts today, Friday, Nov 19.
Technically, these aren't the first to open in the Pacific Northwest as Timberline Lodge lifts run for skiing and riding year round on Mt. Hood, closing only in September for maintenance. But the battle rages among the seasonal resorts to answer the clamoring of fans with first turns. The result? Three resorts are starting up lifts for the public this morning, Friday, becoming the first to open in British Columbia, Washington, and Idaho. Several more are scheduled to open Saturday, Nov. 20.
Whistler Blackcomb announced early this week a bumped up opening to Nov. 19, six days earlier than their predicted date. Freeskier Mike Douglas, a long-time Whistler first-day skier, offered a taste of the opening day frenzy. "You have to be seriously committed to make it onto one of the first chairs," he told OnTheSnow. "People start lining up the night before, and by 6 a.m., there will be a huge crowd."
The honor for Whistler's first chair has been reserved for Maelle Ricker, gold medal winner in the 2010 Olympic snowboard cross. She's also receiving a lifetime pass to Whistler Blackcomb.
Those after Ricker in the first -day lift line will still be able to lay down a signature on some slopes. The savvy in the crowd will devise a strategy. "Most people have their first run planned out, especially if you are near the front of the line," said Douglas. "You've got months to think about it, so the anticipation is insane."
Douglas and Ricker actually nabbed their first turns at Whistler on Thursday Nov. 18 for promotional videos for the resort. "That'll be sure to make me one of the most hated people in town on opening day because they'll all see what I did!" joked Douglas. "I'll have the advantage of already knowing where the best snow on the mountain will be." The video of Douglas and Ricker grabbing a few turns is available online.
The slopes this year will be different than last year when Whistler Blackcomb recorded a record-busting November with 18 feet of snowfall. Last year's lift line stretched down into the Village Square an hour before the gondola loaded its first public riders. Only Whistler Mountain will be open today with Blackcomb Mountain and the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola opening on Nov. 25, in time for U.S. skiers to hit the slopes for the Thanksgiving holidays.
Whistler Mountain's opening day terrain is limited. Five lifts including Creekside Express are scheduled to start loading the public at 8:30 a.m. Skiable slopes can be accessed from the Creekside Gondola and the Whistler Village Gondola, and downloading is mandatory to get off the mountain. Emerald Express, Big Red Express, and Franz Chair will have the only available runs. A few park features and a beginner area for those who want lessons are set up at the top of Emerald.
Lookout Pass, Idaho, also opens Friday, Nov. 19. Most of the front side of the mountain will be open via Chair 1 with top-to-bottom skiing and reduced ticket rates. Lookout Pass will operate through Sunday and then re-open Thanksgiving Day for the holiday weekend.
Crystal Mountain became Washington's first resort to open Friday, Nov. 19, but with limited operations. Discovery and Quicksilver lifts will run in the morning with Chinook Express and Forest Queen opening around 11 a.m. Lift tickets will be discounted to $20. The resort plans to open more terrain this weekend.
Other resorts, such as Sun Peaks Resort, B.C.; Mt. Baker, Wash.; and Mt. Hood Meadows, Ore., are primed to open Saturday, Nov. 20. Mt. Bachelor, Ore. and Alyeska Resort, Alaska, have confirmed their opening days for Nov. 24, officially launching each Pacific Northwest state or province into the ski season.
A lower snow pack than last year has prompted all resorts to issue early season cautions.
Temporary boundary signage and rope lines may mark the early season perimeters. Skiers and riders need to watch for rocks and other hazards that may hide below the snow surface.